BY: MARINELLA MATEJCIC
On March 17, over 200 hundred feminists and human rights defenders rallied together in the streets of New York to demand justice for the murder of Berta Cáceres. The rally was held at 5:30 p.m. in front of the Honduras Mission to the UN.
Berta Cáceres was a Honduran human rights defender, feminist, and a Lenca indigenous leader – and consequently the thorn in the side of the Honduran government and foreign corporations for years because of her efforts to preserve the indigenous community and their land. She was brutally murdered on March 3, 2016 in her own home in La Esperanza. She died in the arms of her fellow activist, Gustavo Castro Soto, who is now being targeted as the only eye-witness of the murder.
Cáceres’s daughter, Bertha Isabel Zúniga Cáceres gave a powerful speech about her mother, stating that “Berta would be delighted to see you here, sharing for rebellion and demand for justice.” The list of speakers consisted of powerful human rights defenders from indigenous communities including Lilian Esperanza López, Bertha’s colleague from the COPHIN; Yessica Trinidad, the Coordinator of the National Women Human Rights Defenders Network in Honduras; Daysi Flores Hernandez, the Honduras Coordinator for JASS Mesoamerica; Áine O’Connor, a member of the Mercy Global Action Coordinator at the United Nations for the Sisters of Mercy; and Bai Ali Indayla, a Bangsamoro (Moro) activist from Maguindanao, Philippines.
Together with the protesters, they chanted unanimously, “When human rights are under attack, what we do? We fight back!” The mission was to send a message to the Honduran government; to ask why they are afraid to investigate Berta’s murder and what are they hiding? The rally vocalized the fact that the money that is being brought to Honduras is blood money and that the people from America have to demand that their government leave the Honduran environment and its people.
One of the main fears and concern that was brought up during the rally was what will happen to all of the unknown eco-activists, when this happened to Cáceres, who was a prominent and globally recognized leader.
Cáceres was the co-founder and director of the COPINH, Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. As a prominent leader, Berta was resisting the construction of DESA’s AguaZarca hydroelectric dam. The community of Lenca and COPINH has received threats because of their efforts to protect the Gualcarque River. Cáceres was continuously harassed, threatened, stigmatized, arbitrarily detained and criminalized by people associated with DESA, entities of the Honduran state and government officials.
Right after Cáceres’s murder, the Honduran police reportedly tried to present the killing as botched robbery. The dam builder announced, “There is no direct or indirect connection between the project and the unfortunate event that has ended the life of the indigenous leader”.
The COPINH released a statement on March 3, stating: “Our dear Berta was assassinated by bullets of injustice; she was assassinated by the hate and racism that govern our country. We know very well who murdered her. We know it was DESA and the Hydroelectric project Agua Zarca, financed by the Dutch Development Bank (FMO), the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation Ltd. FINNFUND, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE), the German corporations Siemens and VoithHydro, the company CASTOR (Castillo Torres) Constructora Cerros de Comayagua, the Honduran bank FICOHSA, the corporate group of the Atala family, the government of the United States through the USAID program and the project “Mercado,” as well as SERNA, in complicity with the National Government of Honduras. These are the authorities behind the physical disappearance of Berta. Their hands are stained with indigenous blood and with the blood of the Lenca people.”
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be an environmental activist. Because of all of the investments that should bring welfare to the communities living there, environmental protection isn’t taken into account and activists are fighting huge amounts of money, non-transparency and corruption. In a timespan of four years – between 2010 and 2014 – 101 activists were murdered.
Cáceres’s family, COPHIN and the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders wrote a list of demands that were read during the rally. They demand an immediate and transparent investigation into this crime, protection for Gustavo Castro Soto, as well as urging the Honduran state to create a safe and secure environment for human rights defenders across the country.
A pamphlet that states how Cáceres accused Hillary Clinton of legitimating the Honduran coup by pushing for quick elections to prevent the return of the overthrown constitutionally elected Mel Zelaya to the presidency was given out to the protesters.
The rally ended in the same way it began – with resilient chanting. “Stop the U.S., from Honduras to Syria to the Philippines!”
Another human rights activist from Honduras, Nelson García, was also killed this month. This should be a serious warning to all the institutions and people involved in financing the controversial dam project. It is not only destroying people’s community, it is literally killing them.